7,500 Year Old Underwater Village May Have Been Oldest Olive Oil Production Center In The World


An underwater excavation site off of Haifa, Israel, has revealed a 7,500-year-old water well and Neolithic village. The finds are from a pre-metal and pre-pottery settlement that lived on the Kfar Samir site. This lost Levantine village is now 5 meters (16 feet) underwater due to prehistoric sea-level rise, drowning out what may have been the oldest olive oil production center of the world. The research team from Flinders University in Australia, Israel’s University of Haifa and the Israel Antiquities Authority, has been excavating the submerged structures in the area and using leading-edge photogrammetry, in the hopes of gleaning insights into the ancient society that once thrived there; what they ate, how they hunted, and who they traded with.


Dr. Benjamin (left) and the Haifa University team clear away sands at the excavation site. Credit: J. McCarthy.

The well is thought to have supplied fresh water to the village. According to Flinders University maritime archaeologist Jonathan Benjamin, “Water wells are valuable to Neolithic archaeology because once they stopped serving their intended purpose, people used them as big rubbish bins.” Once sea levels began to rise the fresh well water became salty, and the villagers used it instead for their refuse, throwing in animal bones and food scraps. “This is superb for archaeologists because it means we can look through the refuse of prehistoric societies – including animal bones, plant fibers and tools – to see how these ancient civilizations lived, how they hunted and what they ate,” Benjamin says. Science and research website Phys.org reports that core sample results from the Kfar Samir site will give a clearer picture on the early Mediterranean diet, and the trade of the village. Researchers are expecting to find stone tools rather than metal, and needles made of bone, as well as seeds, plant fibers, and other organic material. Benjamin notes that the location may have been the oldest olive oil production center of the world, based on previous excavations. A study in the Journal of Archaeological Science describes the thousands of crushed olive stones and early olive-oil production technology found in pits at the prehistoric site in the 1990s.


A water well submerged at the Kfar Samir archaeological site. Credit: Israel Antiquities Authority

Leading-edge photogrammetry was used by the research team and Wessex Archaeology, in developing a “mosaic” of photographs, and a 3-D model of the well. Photogrammetry, determining measurements and exact positions using photographs, is not a new science, however its use is expanding into new underwater frontiers. Benjamin describes the technique in a statement, writing that it’s “not just about creating a pretty picture – for maritime archaeologists it’s a tool that we can use to study the site and make archaeological interpretations. We can spend a few minutes under water, but hours on land analyzing the material in very fine detail.” To archaeologists and historians, the Levantine coast’s contribution to the world’s ancient history is vital. Research will continue on this and other ancient sites off Haifa, as sea levels continue to change over time, and more prehistoric areas and ancient finds are revealed.


Liz Leafloor